Going to Machu Picchu was amazing. It was beautiful to see the ruins and learn about their advanced culture. We had a guided tour for a few hours that went into detail about why the city was built the way it was and the general history behind their beliefs. We were able to then wader around for a few hours. I and a partner did both of the short, but free, hikes out of the city and back. We viewed the architecture and the sights of the beautiful city. Admired how good they were at making stairs (man there were a lot! Our knees were feeling it by the end of the day!). After spending 7 hours there we then hiked back down to Aguas Calientes because the line for the bus back down was so long.
This brings me to something that was incredibly obvious when we first got there. It was so incredibly touristy. Thousands of people are there daily, and it was kind of a shock after seeing a limited number of people for such a long time. I absolutely enjoyed my time up in Machu Picchu wandering the paths that people took so long ago, but I was very happy that the rest of our trip had not been like that. Anyway, after a lovely sunny day at Machu Picchu we all slept very well and then headed back to Cusco the next day for our adventure to come to a close.
Little did 6 of us know our adventure was not over yet! We were all supposed to fly from Cusco to Lima the night of the 21st and be home on the 22nd. Unfortunately our flight was canceled and we had to stay another night in Cusco. We were working off of little to no sleep but we managed to get our flights rescheduled home for the next day. We managed to make it home only 12 hours late (which was around 2:15 am on the 23rd!). We were all very happy to be home after a couple stressful days. It was a stressful ending, but this was an incredible once in a lifetime experience for me and I am so happy that I went out of my comfort zone to go to Peru and explore the incredible biodiversity that it was to offer.
The last part of our exploration seminar really focused on culture in Peru. We were back in Cusco for a day and back with civilization for the rest of the trip. I was excited to start seeing that side a bit more. We spent one day in Cusco visiting the San Pedro market and we squeezed in Plaza de Armas for some souvenir shopping!
We headed out of Cusco and moseyed our way to the Urabamba Valley. We stopped did a lot of enlightening things along the way. We stopped and volunteered at a elementary school and met some of the children. We planted some flowers and started to help build their playground, but we ran out of time before it was complete. They were grateful for our help, and we really enjoyed spending time with the kids. We then got to view and be a part of an earth blessing by a local shaman that Ursula and Tim knew. That was incredible to be a part of something so spiritual. We then toured a large Incan corn farm to close out the day.
We followed this day with discussions about sustainable agriculture vs mass production of crops. It boiled down to people are doing the best that they can to be sustainable but still make a profit to survive. Completely understandable, but sustainability does need to become more of a prominent factor. All the people in Peru no matter their profession know climate change is happening, they have seen it growing up. This is a very large head start at achieving sustainability goals over the United because most of their citizens understand that the climate is changing and people need to start responding the crisis no matter what is causing the change.
We followed this busy day with more incredible packed days. We went to a women’s weaving co-op. We learned how to dye yarn and see how much hard work goes into spinning, dying and weaving. We got to buy some of their products (warning all these products are great and I spent too much money there J but I regret nothing!). We then went to tour the Salt Mines and WOW these were stunning. I had never seen anything like it. It was incredible to see the process and to be able to walk through it and see crystals forming.
We went to a textile center the next day that produced a variety of clay products. This ranged from art to bowls and mugs. It also doubled as an animal sanctuary because the man’s son who started the business was a vet. That was fun to see because he had large german shepherds running around with a lot of ceramics at head and tail height, but they never knocked anything over!
We then made our way to Ollantaytambo where we then took a short train to Aguas Calientes and got ready to go to Machu Picchu the next day!!! I was very excited
We spent our last day in the amazon basin exploring how crops are grown with a tropical climate. We discussed sustainability and viewed sustainable agriculture expieraments that were put together by the researcher there. It was fun to hear about his plans for the future, because he had just taken it over at the beginning of the year. We also enjoyed a tour of some medicinal and more traditional plants that are used by natives in Peru. That was interesting to hear the natural remedies and shows that plants are capable of a lot of things!
We left Villa Carmen and headed to Wayqecha where we did data analysis for a few days for our research projects. Man it was cold up there in the cloud forest! Moving from the amazon basin to the Andes was a shock! I wore a hat, gloves, and many layers while we were there, and I actually enjoyed eating hot food and having hot tea and coffee (eating hot food when it is hot and humid is surprisingly hard). We explored the forest near the biological station and got to enjoy the amazing views while we did many nature walks. It was incredible to see the difference in habitats from what we had just come from.
On our last day at Wayqecha we went on a hike to a suspension bride. We looked at environmental differences between the peaks and valleys of the hills along the way. We all got to cross the suspension bridge and see what the view of the forest would be like from the trees. It was a great way to learn about plant adaptations for a damp and cloudy environment.
Next thing I knew we were on our way back to Cusco! Time was flying by, and we were already saying goodbye to the rainforest as we weaved our way back to civilization.
Just a little rain
We had a rain and thunderstorm on the 5th. It was our first and only rain that we had, but boy; it rained hard when it did. We had started mist netting that morning, but had to close the mist nets and run back to the station when it started down pouring. The soil is so bad that the station flooded within the first few hours of rain (and it continued to rain intensely until late afternoon). It was fun to experience the rain, but I am glad that was not happening for most of our trip.
We finished up our bird research in the next few days, and then it was already time to leave CC. It went by really fast and I had gotten so comfortable with the atmosphere. It was really nothing like I was expecting. I was expecting every other plant and insect to be poisonous and most things could kill you, but it really wasn’t like that at all. I felt very at ease on my last days at CC.
sunrise on Manu River
We went on a night walk to the beach one of the last nights, and it was fun! It surprisingly wasn’t scary to wander around in the dark in the amazon. I felt curious and excited even though we had to get up early the next morning. I will most likely not go to CC again in my life, so I wanted to make the most of it. We saw lots of frogs, and moths, and insects like spiders and cicadas. Fun fact: Spiders eyes reflect light. So when you have your headlamp on at night, and you’re just walking through the woods, you can see a lot more eyes than you would expect. But again, it wasn’t frightening; it was just fun and exciting to see what was out there. Will definitely miss my time at CC!
We left CC and made our way to Villa Carmen Bio station. We got to sleep in beds for the first time in a while. I slept very well after a long day of traveling by boat and bus. It was still warm because we were in the amazon basin still, and I should have enjoyed it, because after Villa Carmen heat was not going to be an issue anymore!
Giant River Otter saying Hello!
Over the next few days we continued to learn more basics about our surroundings. We learned the dominant plant and insect families because they are both very important, and very abundant, in the amazon rainforest. They are equally as important for the ecosystems because they are the primary producers and primary consumers for the rest of the ecosystem. We also continued to explore the environment we were living in through nature walks or through canoeing in the mornings. The giant river otters came to investigate our canoes one morning!
Releasing my first bird
Later in the week we started discussing research techniques for ecology. One that was very important to me was mist netting because we were in the bird research group. We learned how to set up mist nets to capture birds and I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked doing it and I liked seeing the birds up close to take measurements and pictures. I would not have considered myself a bird person before this trip because I had no background with it, but they were starting to grow on me. We got further into our research project and our group got to start handling the birds a bit more and that was fun, but bird research is an early task! Birds are most active in the mornings, so we went to open mist nets at dawn every morning.
I was starting to get used to CC life, and I was really enjoying my time there. I was surprised my back wasn’t hurting from sleeping on my sleeping pad for so long, but it continued to be fine the rest of the trip as well. I was also getting used to the heat, and sweating in full length cloths all day. It wasn’t bad because everyone could relate to what you were experiencing. Once you started to relax about the atmosphere you were able to enjoy it much more. You could appreciate all the life around you and listen to all the sounds of the jungle. My favorite part was waking up in the dark mornings and listening to all the sounds. You would hear howler monkeys, birds, and a lot of bugs, but they all played together into this indescribable symphony. That is what I will miss the most now that I am home. The sounds were unlike anything I have ever heard before, it was incredible.
Band Tailed Manakin
Back from Peru and I would not trade that experience for anything. It was an amazing month full of once in a lifetime experiences that I got to share with many wonderful people along the way. I will be blogging about my time in five or so day chucks to try and go over some of my best memories and lessons I learned. A month is a long time to try to catch up on, so I will do my best (luckily we were required to journal for the program!). I am a very visual person, so my blog will be full of pictures! Enjoy!
August 26-August 30:
We made it to Cusco, Peru a couple days ago and had some time to acclimate to the elevation. Brianna and I slept a lot and drank lots of Coca tea to ease our aliments. We met our group on the 26th at noon and got to know everyone a little more and get our schedule figured out. Then the next morning we were off to start our adventure!
The next three days consisted of our group busing and boating to reach Cocha Cashu Biological Station. The first day was a 14 hour bus ride from Cusco to Atalaya where we spent the night. This is a picture of the view when we reached the highest point of the Andes we were crossing. Also here is a map to help track where we were!
View into the amazon basin from the highest point we would hit in the Andes
Then the next two days were 8 hour beautiful boat rides along the Madre de Dios and Manu rivers. The boat rides were full of bird and other animal’s sightings along the way. We also had a chance to talk about river dynamics which was fun to learn about while we were in it and navigating the shallow waterways. We spent one night at a ranger station called Limonal where we camped, and then we were up early for another day of boat riding on the Manu River! Here are a few pictures I captured along my way to Cocha Cashu, there were a lot more, but these are my favorite!
Sunrise on the Manu River
We finally reached Cocha Cashu (CC) late on the 29th and we quickly set up our tents and had dinner and we were off to bed. The first few night in the amazon were the hardest. It was hot and humid, and we were advised to wear long pants, long sleeves, and boots at all times of the day. Sweating was pretty constant at most times of the day. Our saving grace was the cold showers. That was my favorite time of the day because I got a break to be normal temperature for a few minutes!
Our first real day at CC was great. I saw spider monkeys in the wild! I was also stung by a bee for the first time in my life because I was trying to balance myself while taking off my rubber boots (Look were you put your hands!! They will tell you this over and over!). The amount of life here is unlike anything I have ever seen and we are so immersed in it because we are camping and limiting our needs for excess. Waking up and going to sleep to the forest sounds was unlike anything you could experience in the United States. The biting bugs I could do without, but they come with the territory, and really they aren’t bad except near water. I am excited to see what the rest of my time here will bring!
Spider Monkey investigating us